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ABA Provides Guidance on Websites

From the October 2010 Attorney E-Newsletter of The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association has published Formal Opinion 10-457, which provides valuable guidance to lawyers and law firms who make use of websites in the public presentation of their practices. The opinion addresses content issues such as providing information about the firm or practice, publishing information about the law, and handling visitor inquiries. It also provides advice on warnings or cautionary statements intended to limit or clarify the practice’s obligations to visitors.

Some of the high points of the opinion’s coverage include:

  • A website may offer biographical and professional information about the lawyers and practice, but such statements that are “communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services” are subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1, 8.4(c) (generally), and 4.1(a) (when representing clients).
  • Information that identifies clients may be posted, but the clients should provide informed consent within the requirements of Rules 1.6 (current clients) and 1.9 (former clients).
  • Lawyers and firms may address legal issues on the website. Such communications should be general information rather than specific advice. Qualifying statements may be necessary to make sure that such information is not construed as legal advice.
  • Lawyers who respond to questions or inquiries from website visitors should be particularly aware of the provisions of Rule 1.18 regarding prospective clients. The opinion addresses this topic at length.
  • Finally, warnings or cautionary statements on a lawyer’s website can be designed to and may effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer’s obligation to a website reader. The opinion makes a number of observations on assuring that such statements are effective.

The opinion’s coverage of these issues is much more detailed than this brief summary. Lawyers and law firms who publish websites would benefit from reviewing the opinion and checking their own sites along the lines it suggests.

Pittsburgh Municipal Court On-Line Postponement Project

WBA BlogFrom Paul Kuntz, Court Administrator

The Allegheny Court Administrator's Office asked me to pass on information to members of the Westmoreland Bar who practice criminal law in the City of Pittsburgh regarding their new on-line postponement system.  The Announcement [below] provides a link and explains the program.  The Manual can also be accessed from the link provided in the announcement.

Practice Tip of the Week

Dan JosephPractice Tip of the Week

by Dan Joseph, Esquire

In both civil and criminal cases, hiring your own investigator is mandatory for proper pre-trial preparation. The investigator should take statements, signed and dated on all pages and an acknowledgment by the witness that this is in fact his or her statement. This allows the statement to be used not just for impeachment but for substantive evidence. Most important is that the investigator take statements even from those witnesses that have given statements to either the police or insurance investigator. It is amazing how the statements will differ depending on what questions are asked and how they are asked. Do not ever simply accept the statements of witnesses contained in police reports without taking your own statements from those witnesses. To avoid becoming a witness in your own trial, always use an investigator to take the statements. That way if their trial testimony differs from the statement, you can always call the investigator to testify. It is very effective when you place the investigator’s credentials before the jury and then have the investigator tell the judge or jury what the witness told them.

Dan Joseph is a partner with New Kensington law firm of George and Joseph. Dan has been in practice for 38 years.

New Local Rule Adopted

Judicial Administration Rules Change

Per an Order of Court dated August 18, 2010, Westmoreland County Rule of Judicial Administration WJ510 is adopted and effective 30 days after publication in The Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Click here to view the order and full text of the rule change.

Google Scholar: A Review

From Betty Ward, Westmoreland County Law Librarian

Most attorneys are familiar with Google—and use it to research all sorts of information for their practice and daily life. What would we do without it?? Recently a new component of Google Scholar became available, which allows the user to conduct free searches of U.S. case law and more. Google Scholar, which has been specifically geared to scholarly research, now allows searches of general articles and/or patents, full text legal opinions and law journals. Although, Google Scholar is still in the beta testing stage, it shows much promise. The legal content includes U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1791; federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy court opinions since 1923; and state appellate and Supreme Court cases since 1950. It requires no registration or sign-on, it is as easy to use as Google, it is amazingly fast, and it is free. The display is simple and pleasing, with features such as: highlighted search terms, internal page numbers, “How Cited” tabs, “Cited By” boxes and “Related Documents” lists. Preferences and advanced search options may be selected and results are ranked according to relevance.

Major Policy Change Adopted by Most National Title Insurance Agencies

From James J. Conte, Esq., WBA Real Estate Law Committee Chair:

The Real Estate Law Committee and the joint Orphans’ Court/Elder Law Committees want to inform attorneys about the major change in policy adopted by most national title insurance companies. Title insurance agencies have been advised that it is no longer permissible to accept letters from counsel promising that they will see to the filing of the PA Inheritance Tax Return and payment of taxes post-closing.

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